Pod Priority and Preemption


This section aims to provide guidance on pod priority and preemption. It allows application owners and cluster administrators to have an in-depth understanding of Kubernetes preemption features and the relationship between the various components, namely: Pod Disruption Budget Violation, Kubelet Pod QoS, and PriorityClass.

After reading this document, you will have a better understanding of how to plan for application prioritization to ensure minimal outage of the entire system.


Most organizations categorize their applications based on their business impact. Each category defines specific metrics for applications, such as maximum downtime and acceptable response times. The category also specifies the remediation process in the event of application failure. Typically, applications in one category have higher priority than applications in another.

In Kubernetes, the scheduler handles pods on a first-come, first-serve basis. In other words, there is no guarantee that applications with higher importance get scheduled when the cluster is under heavy utilization. To inform the scheduler about application priorities, Kubernetes has a feature called Pod Priority and Preemption. It ensures that pods with a higher priority have a front slot in the scheduler queue and even evicts lower priority pods if necessary.

System-Wide Priority Class

Kubernetes is managed by system-wide pods to provide services to the respective tenants. These system-wide pods are critical to the functioning of the cluster. To ensure that these critical pods remain scheduled and running, they are assigned the system-cluster-critical and system-node-critical priority classes during the installation.

Run the following command to check the value of the priority class.

$ kubectl get priorityclass

# the greater the value, the higher the priority
NAME                      VALUE        GLOBAL-DEFAULT   AGE
system-cluster-critical   2000000000   false            10d
system-node-critical      2000001000   false            10d

When defining priority classes for your applications, make sure that you use a value that is lower than the built-in system-cluster-critical priority class. By doing so, you can be sure that your applications will not evict system-critical pods.

If you plan to host cluster-wide critical services such as logging agents, metrics server, or an SSO IDP provider; system-cluster-critical or another level below (you organization’s definition of priority) should be used and this will give a guaranteed prioritization for the service.

Priority Class Planning

Most IT organizations have a classification of severity. Let’s assume they have business criticality categories from 1 to 3, 1 having the lowest priority, while 3 having the highest priority for applications that require extremely high levels of reliability. With this assumption, you can reflect these categories in PriorityClasses and use them to prioritize the pods in the cluster.

With the above assumptions, we can define the following priority classes for your entire application needs.

PriorityClass Name Value preemptionPolicy globalDefault
cat-1 10000 None true
cat-2 20000 PreemptLowerPriority false
cat-3 30000 PreemptLowerPriority false
cluster-service 1000000 PreemptLowerPriority false
Table 1: Sample PriorityClass Allocation

Maximum value of priority classes

When defining priority classes, make sure that the value field does not exceed the value specified by system-cluster-critical which is 2000000000

PreemptionPolicy if enabled, allows the scheduler to evict existing pods.

cat-1 has been deliberately configured as default preemptionPolicy

The cat-1 priority class is assigned to deployments by default. The remaining priority classes can be used to prioritize applications according to their availability requirements. You can leverage the cluster-service class for the workloads that provide common services, such as logging and monitoring.

Who Gets Evicted?

Lets assume the scenario where your cluster has pods defined with the following disruption budgets.

Application Disruption Budget
Blue Pod Min Available : 3
Purple Pod Min Available : 3
Green Pod Min Available : 2
Red Pod Min Available : 2
Table 2: Scenario Disruption Budget

Now, let’s assume your cluster is full but you need to deploy another cat-3 application. Kubernetes will attempt to schedule the pod as shown on the following diagram:

pod-priority Figure 1: Scenario: Green Application is Preempted

Pod Disruption Budgets

Even though blue pod has lowest priority (cat-1), the Kubernetes scheduler will not pick that pod due to the disruption budget requirement. Removing any blue pod will cause a violation.

The scheduling will run with 2 passes. If the first attempt failed with fitError which is an indication from scheduler that it could not find the best fit for the pod under the current situations, the Kubernetes scheduler will attempt to run the 2 passes as long as the new pod priority class has PreemptLowerPriority flagged.

During the second attempt, various variables are taken into consideration to select one victim (worker node) for preemption.

  1. It starts by looking for worker nodes that are marked with Unschedulable, which is an indication for possibility to preempt some of the pods

  2. Followed by dry-run reprieve logic on the valid worker nodes and to check if the new pod (orange pod) can be scheduled on the node when all lower priority pod (cat-1 or cat-2) has been successfully evicted. If there is possibility for preemption, Kubernetes scheduler will sort all the pods by their priority and put them into 2 sorted groups based on their PodDisruptionBudget conditions; violated and non-violated pods, if preemption happen on the worker node.

  3. If there are potential pods to preempt, the Kubernetes scheduler selects the worker node based on the below sequence.

    1. The node with minimum number of PodDisruptionBudget violations.
    2. If ties, the node with minimum highest priority victim is picked.
    3. If ties, ties are broken by sum of priorities of all victims.
    4. If ties, the node with the minimum number of victims is picked.
    5. If ties, the node with the latest start time of all highest priority victims is picked.
    6. If ties, the first such node is picked randomly.
  4. Trigger the kubelet to start executing preemption logic.

With the algorithm shown above, the example on ‘Preemption on Green App’ remove the green pod with cat-2 (rather than the blue pod cat-1) as they do not violate PodDisruptionBudget upon removal.

Pod Priority algorithms do not take QoS into consideration as these two features are less likely to interact with each other except for Kubernetes out-of-resource eviction scenario.

Key Takeaways

  1. Always have a default PriorityClass. Use the one with lowest value.
  2. Priority classes should not have a value greater than your cluster-wide, critical PriorityClass.
  3. Preemption logic will respect pod disruption budget rules. Make sure you have this specified during deployment.
  4. For business-critical systems, it is recommended to specify the minimum availability, together with higher priority value. In the sample above, this would be the cat-3 category.
  5. Pod affinity and anti-affinity rules impact the selection of victims. If any of those exist, the worker node will not be considered as part of selection.